Liverpool and Manchester City to launch landmark study into how heading affects footballers' brains


Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester City will step up dementia fight by trialling gumshield in landmark study next month to assess how brains are affected by heading

  • Liverpool and Manchester City will spearhead a new study into heading 
  • It will assess how footballers’ brains are affected amid the dementia crisis 
  • A gumshield will be used to shine a light on the possible limits needed 
  • The trial will begin next month with findings presented at the end of the season

Liverpool and Manchester City will spearhead the landmark new study into how footballers’ brains are affected by heading as the sport battles to tackle its dementia crisis.

As first reported by Sportsmail last month, the Premier League, FA, EFL, Women’s Super League, Professional Footballers’ Association and League Managers’ Association all signed off a pilot scheme which will see players trial a mouthguard.

It will help to shine a light on what limits on heading in training, if any, need to be introduced.

Liverpool and Manchester City will spearhead the landmark new study into how footballers¿ brains are affected by heading

Liverpool and Manchester City will spearhead the landmark new study into how footballers’ brains are affected by heading

Players from the club's women's and U23 teams are expected to take part in research

Players from the club’s women’s and U23 teams are expected to take part in research

The trial is set to begin next month and initial findings are due to be presented to football’s key decision-makers by the end of this season as they consider possible next steps to keep players safe.

The ground-breaking study, led by the Premier League’s medical adviser Dr Mark Gillett, will provide data on how heading the ball in different ways, comparing short and long distances, can have differing impacts on the brain. 

Players from Manchester City and Liverpool’s Under 23s, Under 18s and women’s teams are expected to take part. 

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Sportsmail first reported on the revolutionary gumshield in March 2019 and recommended its usage in football last December.

It is understood that the technology, which sends live data to a pitchside computer through a chip inserted into the gumshield, will help analyse traditional drills and possibly training games, which would give medics a better idea of any trauma suffered during matches. 

Premier League clubs will discuss the study on Thursday morning at a virtual shareholders’ meeting, where executives will be made aware that the findings will be used by the FA to define guidelines for how many times their players can head the ball in training.

Experts have told Sportsmail that they consider 20 headers per session a suitable maximum, with a minimum of 48 hours between these sessions — which became a key demand of this newspaper’s four-month campaign to tackle football’s dementia problem.

The FA’s chief medical officer Dr Charlotte Cowie said on Tuesday that English football’s governing body want more information on the differing forces that come with heading the ball. This will help inform possible guidelines for professional players, as well as those in the adult grassroots game. Restrictions are already in place for footballers at youth level.

Talks over a trial, which have been ongoing for several months, were sparked by Sportsmail’s report in December on how the Protecht mouthguard could help football understand its troubling relationship with head injuries. 

Groundbreaking research has already found that even 20 headers can impact brain function

Groundbreaking research has already found that even 20 headers can impact brain function

The system is already in use among Premiership rugby clubs, with training methods altered based on their findings. It has been adopted in boxing and mixed martial arts, too.

Groundbreaking research has already found that footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from degenerative brain diseases such as dementia, and previous studies suggest even 20 headers can have an impact on brain function.

Given the FA admitted that an independent panel of experts recently advised them to limit the exposure of players to heading, campaigners — including Sportsmail’s Chris Sutton — are keen for restrictions to be imposed sooner rather than later.

The mouthguard, developed by Swansea-based Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA), cannot diagnose concussion or injury, but it helps medics know when someone needs to be examined, replaced or protected.

Cowie was grilled by MPs on the day after Frank Worthington became the latest footballer to pass away after being diagnosed with dementia.

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